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Posts tagged with: writing life

MOVE…or at Least Get Up and Stretch!

Hello, friends, and welcome to a non-writing but necessary blog post that will hopefully have you up and toe-tapping. Or like mentioned in the title – at least stretching. 

The Rubies had a conversation a few weeks ago about our health, specifically about getting up and moving around. One of our little slippers got tied into a deadline, spent way too much time in the chair, and ended up with a medical emergency because she didn’t move enough. Yeah. That’s crazy scary considering how much we writers sit in front of the screen. So I’m bringing you some tips to help you keep yourself from…I don’t know…the ER! We’re not talking about drinking protein powder and getting back into your size 6 jeans. This is more about getting a little bit healthier.

Here are six simple tips to help you roll into summer feeling better (and maybe looking it, too):

  1. Move. Set your timer for a 20-30 minute writing sprint. When it’s over, reward yourself. Not with chocolate. With a nice walk, even if it’s only around the block. Raining or too cold? Have Alexa dial up some 80s party music and then dance. (you may want to close the blinds). Our bodies were made to move and to be productive. So make sure EVERY day that you do some sort of exercise whether it’s laundry Olympics (fold and put each item away so you’re moving constantly while doing this chore) or weeding the flower beds or walking your dog. 
  2. Dump the Sugar. I know. I know. I KNOW. I like sweets, y’all. I like skittles and Reese’s cups and cute little cookies that taste like heaven. But sugar is an enemy to your body. Not only does it add calories, but it causes inflammation and can make you sluggish. Try putting grapes or prepared berries in your fridge instead of calorie-packed, preservative-laced treats. Elect for popcorn in the afternoon or a delicious flavored hot tea. I’ll admit – this is the hardest thing for me to do. 
  3. Drink More Water. I don’t like water. There. I said it. It’s boring and tasteless and so not attractive. Where’s the color, the flavor, the little umbrella? But your body needs water. So get a fun bottle, fill it up and put it on your desk. I prefer having a straw because I tend to drink it more than if there’s a bottle cap. I can mindlessly drink more water if it’s sitting right there with a straw in it.
  4. Make a Date With A Friend. One of the best ways to ensure you’ll get up and get moving is to give yourself some accountability. Ask a friend to take a barre class with you. Or Zumba. Or whatever. Schedule walking three times a week. Not only are you forcing yourself out of a huge comfort zone – on the couch with your trusty bff (your laptop) – but you’re opening yourself up to plots, characterization, and the side benefit of getting healthy. I do Zumba twice a week, walk twice a week with my Plotting pals, and join the husband at the gym every Friday. I’m no gym rat, but I MAKE myself do it. It’s much easier when you have someone who tells you to get your butt off the computer and get to work (the other kind of work).
  5. Get a Massage. I know. You’re like Liz Talley’s lost her mind. I can’t afford that kind of luxury all the time! But what if it’s not a luxury? What if it’s a necessity? I messed up my back one time. It was like agony and pain had a baby…in my lower back. I tried all kinds of things including PT. Eventually, with the help of yoga stretches and therapeutic massage, I got over it. So now I go once a month for a deep tissue massage. It’s not an escape because sometimes it hurts, but it’s necessary for someone like me who sits a lot. It costs about $75 in my neck of the woods and I don’t miss it. 
  6. Moderation. I’m not going to tell you to dump the alcohol or coffee. Just try prying either from my cold, dead hands. But practice moderation in all things, even in exercise. You want to steadily improve your health, not sabotage it. So making tolerable changes will help you make being more healthy a reality. You can’t eliminate all the things you love (Reese’s cups!) from your world, but you can curb them. Like I let myself have a Diet Coke at the grocery check out. That’s my reward for clipping coupons and finding the perfect avocados. Yeah, I have ONE instead of a case. And I sometimes miss Zumba. But I don’t let myself fall out of the habit of going. So give yourself a break when you aren’t perfect. I swear moderation is my battle cry. A little bit is okay. Yeah, and that’s my motto. 

Okay, I could drag out a lot more health tips and talk about regular doctor visits (Fun! Right?) or how to do the perfect plank, but we’ve only got so much time before we have to get back to writing our best sellers. So why don’t you share your favorite ways to get a little bit healthier? Just don’t share any kale recipes. Yuck! LOL.

Ready, set….share your tips!

My Muse is an Angsty Teenager – How to Handle Writer’s Block

As writers, at one time or another, we experience writer’s block, that hair-pulling, empty-brained void filled with silent characters, standing around doing nothing. They wait, and you wait for inspiration. Oh, wherefore art thou, muse?!

 

I envision my muse as a teenager (maybe because I live with some of those taciturn creatures). When my muse is happy, energized and “up”,  she dances the night away, spewing witty dialogue and jumping into dramatic, compelling situations. When my muse is apathetic, sad, or “down”, she turns in on herself and refuses to do anything productive. Just like my teenagers.

I am about 25K words into writing my new Scottish historical romance, A Rose With Thorns. Yesterday, I started a new chapter and began to write. My fingers moved slower and slower until they stopped, poised above my keyboard. I re-read what I’d written. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it was…eh? No! Eh won’t do. Where was my muse?

I worked for another hour, tweaking, my fingers pecking at the scene, until I finally surrendered. I had writer’s block.

What causes writer’s block? The malady is as individual as people, but there are some basic reasons behind this frustrating silence.

Fear – Did you read a bad review and worry that your writing sucks? Did you read a great review and worry that you’ll never top the last book you wrote? Did you sign a four-book contract and are now worried that you won’t meet your deadlines? Are you worried that your readers will hate your new characters?

These are all valid fears. Just like a teen worries about friends, posts on social media and school assignments – your muse does too.

Life interference – Illness, moving, relationship problems, weddings, birthday parties, etc. When life gets so busy, your mental to-do list overrides the voices of your characters. Sometimes writing the other to-dos down helps to free up mental space required for writing. Other times, you just have to honor the season you are in, knowing your muse will return once you come out the other side.

Burn out – Have you been writing non-stop, pushing the word counts until your muse holds up an “on-strike” picket sign? Exhaustion, eating poorly, not exercising, basically letting your body atrophy while your brain runs at full speed. Not a good combination.

So, what do you do?

1. Remind yourself that you are fantastic.

“I am a creative and productive writer.”

“My stories are amazing.”

These are positive affirmations. Say them out loud daily to override some of the fear and worry. Writer’s block, as an enemy, employs head games to make you insecure about your ability to write. Time to play some head games back.

2. Treat yourself well. Get sleep, eat something healthy, make yourself a cup of tea and eat a special treat. You don’t need to add insult to injury by punishing yourself for not being able to write. You need to love your creative self no matter how badly it’s behaving.

When my teen is withdrawn and down, I pop a blanket in the drier to warm up. Then I wrap her in it without saying a word. I kiss her head and walk away. It’s me giving her a warm hug when words and pleading will not convince her to be happy and productive. Same with my muse. I must wrap it up and be patient.

3. Plant the seed. When my characters become motionless, waiting for me to figure out what they will do, feel or say next, I plant the setting seeds in my mind and go for a walk. I think – 16th century, Scottish castle, in the library, winter, hero has a tortured past that involves a foolish father, heroine is a fish out of water and feels guilty about… and so forth.

I set it all up in my head and…go for a walk. Or go to bed. Or imagine sitting there in the library with my characters while I wash dishes or take a shower. I’ve planted the seed and once I relax or get the blood pumping to my brain while walking, the characters start to talk.

Again, this can work with my teens too. They seem to ignore my advice, but later I sometimes hear them giving the advice to a friend or quietly trying out my suggestion. Planting the seed and then stepping away from the computer (or teen) can work.

4. Employ a different medium. We are writers, so we tend to be productive sitting before a computer screen. That is until we have writer’s block. Then the computer screen can shut us down even more.

This happened to me just two days ago. My characters weren’t talking much, and I fell into making them perform a scene without much motivation. And it was awful and yes, boring. After an hour of tweaking the scene, I finally left the computer, made some tea, ate a biscotti, and sat down in a different room with a pad of paper and a sharpened pencil.

At the top of the paper, I wrote “Too Tame!! Take RISKS!!” Then I thought – what do I really want my heroine to do and be? I want her to become a 16th century ninja woman – LOL! But suddenly, ideas started to come. Bits of dialogue started to fly in my head – dramatic, fast paced, witty. I jotted all the ideas down, and some final scene ideas came to me, which will show the character arcs for the hero and heroine. Within five minutes, I’d filled both sides of the paper, writing sideways and all over. I’m using everything I wrote.

5. Rouse the senses. When I want to lift myself out of the writer’s block doldrums, I light a candle, listen to music, and look through Pinterest (all the things my angsty teens do to re-energize themselves). I’m a very visual writer, so pictures help me a lot. I make collages of my projects to help me see important details. When Writer’s Block hits, I go back to the internet or look through my folder of picture clippings, and I usually hit upon something that lures my muse back in.

6. Have faithThis is the ultimate remedy to fight writer’s block. We have days when our muses seem to have abandoned us, but we must believe, in our hearts and bones, that they will return. Creativity doesn’t get used up. The synapses that fire our imaginations are still intact. We are writers. It is what we do, but more importantly, it is who we are. Writer’s block is a temporary signal to slow down and deal with whatever issues are going on around us. But the words will return.

Trust in yourself, try some of the above suggestions, and before you know it, your muse will walk beside you once more.

What tricks do you use to conquer writer’s block?

For more information about Heather McCollum and her books, you can find her here:

www.HeatherMcCollum.com

https://www.facebook.com/HeatherMcCollumAuthor/

https://twitter.com/HMcCollumAuthor

https://www.pinterest.com/hmccollumauthor/

 

Love the One You’re With

The, ahem, older song “Love the One You’re With” was always one I liked, but the message wasn’t one I really cared for. If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with? Well, that sort of encourages cheating, doesn’t it? And, of course, a man wrote it. I think.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about readers here lately. Now I know some of you may be unpublished as of yet, but I think this post can apply to anything you are involved with, especially if that thing is aimed at getting new people to climb on board with something, whether it’s reading your books or attending your dinner party.

I’m the president of NOLA Stars chapter, and here lately we’ve had a huge slide in membership. All those people who were so eager to learn 5-6 years ago bolstered our numbers and it was good. We had critique groups, gave bootcamps, and threw pretty darn good conferences. But over the last 2 years, those people have fallen off the bandwagon and we’ve watched our size decrease to half. When I asked people why, they inevitably say, “I’m just not getting anything out of it anymore” or they’d say “I’m indie publishing and I can get what I need without paying dues.” Ouch! And I’m not going to lie, it hurt. It felt like a reflection on me as the President. And I stewed about it.

One day at a meeting, where I was pretty visibly upset because we didn’t even have enough people to vote on an important bylaw, someone said something to me that was like a baseball bat to the head – why worry about the people who don’t want to be here. Shouldn’t we worry more about the ones who are actually here?

Uh, DUH!

And suddenly I got it – you have to love the one your with.

Translating this to readers also makes sense. In this industry, we’re constantly chasing this or that…or our tails. Add more newsletter subscribers, creates a FB page for readers, sell more books, do ads to reach more people. Visibility, Visibility, Visibility! But what if you just loved the ones you’re with?

Think about it. You have people who like what you do. May not be a ton, but you have some, right? Love those people. Tend to those people. Write the words for those people. And you might find that before long, those people grow. And they tell others about you. And pretty soon you’re doing organic building of your readers by simply focusing on them…and not on all the other people who aren’t reading you. It’s something plenty of successful people have done. In fact, my husband who is a huge fan of KISS (yes, my dentist husband loves to rock out to “Lick it Up.” Irony?) tells me they owe their success to the few who liked them. They grassrooted that ride all the way to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.

So instead of feeling frantic about the readers you don’t have, perhaps you should love the one you’re with.

You’re welcome for the earworm 🙂

How to Write Through Snow Days

We’ve just had weeks of freezing temperatures and now some snow. Kids have been home, and once again, I’m reminded how difficult it is to write with a house of loud chaos around me. I wrote the post below three years ago, when it was even louder (before my eldest left for college). So here are my tips again, and my funny life on a snow day in 2014. BTW – I still wear the Super Mom cape, but I’ve since gotten a real tiara. If I’m going to bust my butt, at least I’ll also sparkle!

The first snow day is a blast! Kids jump around like the dog chasing its tail, just for the sheer joy of seeing those fat, white flakes. Dreams of snowmen, sledding and hot coco even make my heart race. I drag out the gear, realize none of it fits anymore, and use my still exuberant mind to rig up alternatives to keep my kids somewhat warm and dry. They head out, and I cup my warm mug of chai latte with a smile. Yay! A snow day!

Five minutes later, the 7yo stomps in crying because 13yo brother threw snow in her face, and it’s running down her back. I de-ice her, yell a warning to my son, and send her back out into the pristine white. I sit down to write with the soft flakes falling outside my window. Ah… peace.

Fifteen-year-old daughter runs downstairs. “Five girls are coming in half an hour to watch a movie. Don’t worry they’ll bring their own food.” She smiles like that solves everything. I nod and turn back to the computer to type my second word of the day.

Thirteen-year-old son runs in, tracking clumps of snow through the foyer. “Can Nathan come over?” He has somehow heard about the girls coming and needs to make certain life is fair.

Seven-year-old daughter runs in needing a carrot, coal (who has coal?) and licorice for a smile (my licorice is with my coal).  I improvise with a small bell pepper, broken candy cane, and two black Legos I found in the couch last night. She runs back out, and I sit down to write. I re-read the first two words of the day and type two more.

The girls show up in a babble of teen talk and derisive laughter. I pop corn and make hot coco, because somehow a Super Mom cape sprouted from my shoulders. I warm my chai latte, re-read my four words and finish the sentence. The 7yo runs in covered with snow. I help her change, throw wet clothes in the dryer and make her some hot coco (dang Super Mom cape). She calls a friend and suddenly I count ten kids in my house.

I check e-mail, make it half-way through a response, and jump up to referee a squabble between my 7yo and 13yo. I step in a melted puddle of slush and must change socks, sending me upstairs. I realize my laundry has become a ten-foot high mountain of wet clothes and towels. I start laundry and return to my WIP, no my e-mail, oh shoot, I have to write a blog post for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood site!

“Mom! Can you bring me an apple juice so I can make a snow cone outside?” yells the 7yo as she and her friend shrug back into their still wet snow pants. I zip them both up, but tell my daughter to find her own apple juice. After all, I have a blog post to write now! I sit down and type the first sentence.

“Mom, how do I work the popcorn machine? We need more.” 15yo “Can we make brownies?”

“Mom, can Nathan spend the night?” 13yo “Do we have anymore gloves? I lost one.”

“Mom, I can’t open the apple juice!” 7yo “Mom? Just making sure you’re still there.”

“Will this snow day ever end?!” 43yo mom who’s Super Mom cape is now limp and tattered by 12:35 PM.

A roar of glee rises from the family room. “It’s snowing again! And they’ve already called off school tomorrow!”

Sigh…another snow day.

With the winter of 2014 creating lots of snow days, those parents working at home need to figure out creative ways to get their work done. Here are a few tips for writers I’ve learned over this snow week.

  1. Write early or late. By evening, my mind is mush, so if I must write while the kiddos are sleeping, it better be early in the morning. If the schools are closed, still get up at the normal time and get in your word counts before everyone rises.
  2. Lock the Super Mom cape in your closet. If you must provide goodies, when you hear the snow prediction stock up on snacks that can be pulled from a bag. Freezer items, which can be thrown in the oven, work too.
  3. Hide! This works well if you have a lap top. I have learned to write up in my room with the door closed. The walk in closet works too if your kids are good at hide and seek.
  4. Join a writing sprint. The focused 30 minute time intervals help keep your butt in the seat, so when that Super Mom cape escapes and tries to get you in the kitchen baking brownies, you’re strapped to the chair instead. Tell yourself that once you meet your word count goal, you can fly in and be the best mom ever. (The Ruby Winter Writing Festival starts this week with loads of sprints!)
  5. Put on a movie. Now this only works if you have kids who will watch a movie and kids who can agree on a movie. But it’s worth a try. Then you employ Tip #3.
  6. If you just can’t settle down for very long to write, do other “writer” things that don’t require the concentration of creating witty dialogue and flowing narrative. I have been taking pictures for future book trailers. So when the snow came falling, I took the camera and went snapping. You can also update your web site, tweet, and Facebook in quick bursts of productivity. Even editing can be done between interruptions easier than writing fresh words.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up. Snow days are hard on productivity. When our routines are turned inside out, it is just really hard to get things done. Do the best you can and definitely take some time out to have hot coco with your little ones. They grow up fast, too fast. One day, snow days will be calm and productive, and I bet you will miss the days when they were not.

What are your tips for keeping up your word count during snow days?

Whedon’s Wisdom

On May 4, 2015, the Monday following the wildly successful opening weekend of Avengers: Age of Ultron, writer/director/producer Joss Whedon deactivated his Twitter account.

JossTweet

 

 

 

 

 

And the Twitterverse went WILD, attributing his departure to everything from him receiving death threats, to militant feminists’ anger over his depiction of the Black Widow character in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. But several days later, Whedon gave an interview at Buzzfeed denying those reasons.

His real reason?    

“I just thought, Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place. And this [Twitter] is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life. … It’s like taking the bar exam at Coachella.”

(Bolding mine.)

“The quiet place.” Remember that place? I do, quite fondly – but with every day that passes, it seems to regress farther back in my memory banks.

In our day-to-day lives, we are deluged by media, by digital media in particular. Between time spent writing, and then promoting via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat, blogs, blah blah blah and whatever the hell pops up next to infinity and beyond amen, the idea of a quiet brain, a quiet place, seems…almost quaint, doesn’t it?

Social media can be a wonderful way to create community, and for readers and writers to connect, but let’s be honest: it can also be tiring. Time-consuming. Guilt-inducing. Overwhelming.

It can also be addicting. Again, Joss Whedon:

“The real issue is me. Twitter is an addictive little thing, and if it’s there, I gotta check it. When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that’s kind of rock bottom for an addict. … I just had a little moment of clarity where I’m like, You know what? If I want to get stuff done, I need to not constantly hit this thing for a news item or a joke or some praise, and then be suddenly sad when there’s hate and then hate and then hate.”

Will he ever come back? 

“I think the articles that I found [via Twitter], I can find elsewhere,” Whedon said. “I’ll miss some jokes. Maybe I’ll have to go out to a club to see jokes! I think that’s already an improvement in my life. … I need to go out, do the research, turn the page, see the thing, hear the music, live like a person. I’m not great at that. So, oddly enough, because I always feel like I’m the old man who doesn’t get the tech, right now I’m the man who thinks he could do better without it.”

Whedon clearly had the wisdom to realize he’d hit the wall, and he’s far from the only artist who’s made the decision to disconnect in order to preserve their creativity or their health. Neil Gaiman once took a six month social media break so he could better focus on his writing. Comedian Louis C.K. shut down his Twitter account because he kept regretting his tweets and found himself growing depressed. Actor Simon Pegg turned his social media accounts over to his official fan club because he simply didn’t enjoy digital engagement any longer. Comedian and actor Stephen Fry left Instagram, and briefly left Twitter, saying he felt “hounded” and “unsafe.” Feeling hounded and unsafe is, regrettably, a rather common occurrence for many high-profile women on social media these days – women whose only ‘crime’ is daring to state an opinion in public. 

It can be really rough out there.  

Where’s the happy medium? Where’s the personal “Goldilocks Zone” of not too much social media, and not too little, but just right?  How can we create healthy boundaries, preserving sanity, safety and self, in this era where creativity and commerce often intersect? Where direct contact with readers (and other writers) is not only desirable, but pretty much a job requirement?

Whether you’re a reader or a writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the pros and cons, the ups and downs, and the expectations and pleasures, of using social media. Do you have any tips or techniques for finding your quiet place in this noisy digital age?

-tammy

Simple Steps to Organization

Happy Monday! Okay, so we don’t always celebrate Mondays (unless it’s a holiday). But often Mondays are beginnings. The beginning of a new job, or a new project or even a new healthy way of life. There are many avenues to a healthy life. Today I’m going to touch on the mental health that comes with an organized work space.

I am definitely not the most organized person, not even close. I really don’t stand a chance living with three kids, three guinea pigs (lots of cavy paraphernalia), a crazy golden retriever who spreads her toys about the house, and a husband who means well but has no problem sitting amongst dirty dishes and clutter. But what I’ve found is that if I can organize a part of my world, I am a more productive person which makes me a much happier person.

Notice that I did not say clean. I said organized. They are two different things. You don’t have to love cleaning to organize. I love Julie Morgenstern’s description in her book, Organizing from the Inside Out Organizing from the Inside Out on Amazon. organizing from inside outShe says that the goal is to be able to know where something is right away. As long as you have a system where you can retrieve something quickly, without wasting precious time hunting (which is what I did this morning to find her book under my bed), then you have organization.

My goal for 2015 is to slowly organize my house. How am I doing? Well I’ve made progress, taking one small area or room at a time. I don’t know if I’ll finish the whole house this year (and keep what’s organized from falling back into chaos), but I’m definitely taking steps in the right direction.

So what makes Julie’s way of organizing different and effective? She analyzes first before plunging in and wasting money buying organizational paraphilia that doesn’t fit the space or life style. I’m a plunge-in type of person, but Julie made me stop and think first. And it works!

Here are a few basic steps and how I implemented them. I suggest starting with your writing area or business area. Not a whole room at first but just your desk.

1. Analyze – look at how you have things set up currently. What works? What doesn’t work? Write it down (really, write it down – it helps).

What works: I always know where my passwords are written down. It’s a small brightly colored phone book I keep in a little drawer of my desk.  Lamp, white board with pens and calendar are within reach.

What doesn’t work:  Too much clutter – knickknacks that remind me of my books are cute, but too many clutter my desk, too many stacks of paper, things piled on floor since my desk is small, poorly utilized filing cabinet. 

2. Strategize – Create a plan of action for wading through and transforming your space. It takes time, so work that into the plan. Either a Saturday or do a little each day, but be realistic on how long it will take (my small desk area took about 6 hours which I broke up over several days).

3. Attack – Julie uses the SPACE formula which is:

Sort

Purge

Assign a Home

Containerize

Equalize

 

Sort – Julie says it is critical to pick up every single piece in the area. Don’t ignore the pile in the corner. Sort it all. Identify what is important to you and that space. Does it belong there? Does it help you do the function in that area? If not, it goes somewhere else. Also, group similar things so you can containerize properly later.Keep%20Toss%20Donate_0

 

Purge – have bins for trash, donate, or relocate within your house. This can be difficult and Julie writes more on the psychology of purging. It can be the hardest part for some and the easiest and most liberating for others. I fall somewhere in the middle, but I do feel “lighter” when I get things out of my house.

 

kindergarten roomAssign a Home – Julie talks about the Kindergarten model of organization. Every space should be set up like a Kindergarten classroom. The teacher has specific locations for different activities (art, reading, computers, etc). It is pretty easy for the kids to know what activity should happen in each area based on what is stored there (crayons and glue in the art area, books in the reading area). Every location in our homes and offices should be set up the same way. If you want the top of your desk to be for writing, the pile of bills needs to find a new home.

 

 

Containerize – How many of you have bought containers to organize and then ended up not using them because they didn’t fit or work? I have several in a stack in my bedroom. Ugh! But I’ve now OfficeDrawerOrganizer_xllearned to measure areas and look at what I’m going to store there. THEN I go to the dollar store and buy bins and baskets. Julie uses the Kindergarten example again. Teachers will have a bin just the right size for 20 pencils, not 10 pencils because there are 20 pencils to live there. A too small bin brings on overflow and frustration. And if a system is frustrating or difficult to use, neither a kid nor an adult will use it.

 

Equalize – About 2 weeks after you’ve organized your space, take a lunch break to evaluate how things are working. Are you following your new system? Is something frustrating, time consuming or difficult? It’s important to smooth the rough spots and adjust. Our lives are dynamic and our spaces need to be too. If things change, the system may need to flex to that change. So make sure to include “tune-ups” in your quest to keep an organized area running smoothly.

 

I’ve organized my desk according to Julie’s plan. And yes, it works better, however I need to keep using the system for it to continue to work. When life gets busy I find myself dropping things next to my desk instead of placing them in the nice file folder I created that’s sitting just two steps away. After a week of dumping I have to step over piles when I stand up from my desk. Sigh… But I’ve found that with my systems in place, I can usually clean things up within a half hour. All in all, I think organization is possible, even for someone scattered like me.

Eleri organized

My organized desk named Eleri

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any tips for creating and maintaining an organized space? Do you think clearer in an organized space or do you prefer the creative chaos of clutter?

 

Ready to take an organization test? Choose one of the items below and see how long it takes you to find it. How well did you do?

  1. Recipe for a dish you cut out of a magazine but haven’t tried yet.
  2. Your passport.
  3. A calculator.
  4. Notes from the last conference call you had with your editor or agent.
  5. Your dog’s brush.
  6. Postage stamps.

 

 

 

It’s Easy to Give Advice

So the other day after killing myself in Zumba class, I headed toward the exit of my gym. To the left of me is an area where several older people gather to have coffee and donuts (I know!) after they work out. It’s a busy area and they never fail to make me smile. Well, this particular day as I ditched my empty water bottle, I heard several older men complaining about the way other people let their kids mooch off them. It was the whole virtuous “Teach a man to fish” conversation and they were quite spirited about it.

And all I could think was “Yeah, but you’re not living it. You’re sitting here, popping donuts, spouting off about how you would NEVER let your kid mooch off you. Easier said than done.”

I left and as I walked to the car, my mind flipped to how much advice we get as parents – don’t let them have a bottle past a year old, no passies past age 2, start them on vegetables first….yada, yada, yada. And it follows a parent all the way until….well, until a parent is hobbling around the track and wolfing donuts at 77. Everyone seems to know best.

Right?

Advice. Sigh. It’s everywhere in the writing world, too. From the time you join an RWA chapter or some other writing group, well-intentioned people are lined up to give you gentle (or sometimes bone-jarring) advice on what you should do. Whether it’s “stop using so many ellipses” (yeah, I know I use a lot of ’em) to where you should advertise your book for sale, someone somewhere is going to make you feel like you’re doing it all wrong. And you will believe them, the same way I believe all those experts in parenting magazines when they said to give a child choices to give him a sense of independence (Thank you Parents magazine for EVERY SINGLE fight I have with my youngest over what he wears each day) or those well-meaning moms who made me feel like I was the worst mom in the world for not packing organic lunches, monogramming their shortalls, and skipping the occasional room mom party. We all get sucked into believing other people know what is best for our story, the submission process, and promotions.

And that’s not to say we all don’t need some advice sometimes. Because sometimes good advice does make the difference to a plot or our sales. I’m not saying don’t listen to others, but instead I’m asking you to always listen to yourself. You usually know what is needed for the story. Know why? Cause it’s your story. Yours. And there is some satisfaction in knowing that you control that aspect of your writing life. You are the creator of your story. Bottom line.

This is something I must keep in mind with my new critique group. In my local RWA chapter, I felt there was a need for some mentoring and critiquing because so many of our members were new writers. When I first joined NOLA STARS, I had some very generous ladies who met with me once a week to read my work and show me how to be a better writer. Yes, I was easily influenced because I wanted to get better and please these more experienced writers, but at the same time, I was very certain to hold on to my vision. Some writers aren’t good at digging in their heels and that’s something I encourage my new critique group to do – hold on to your story.

So today, dear friends, I’m reminding you that advice abounds everywhere, but it’s easy to give advice when you are sitting in a different chair (eating donuts). Every author is different, every situation is different. Hold on to your story. It’s yours. It’s you. And it can’t be anybody else’s.

So today let’s talk about advice – have you ever received any from someone who just didn’t get it? Have you received advice that’s made a big difference in your career?

Give Me Just One Reason

Ah, as I pen this post I’m surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of the holiday season.

Several weeks ago my husband and I climbed into the attic and trudged down with a bajillion boxes of Christmas decorations. There were wreaths, two trees, outside lights, centerpieces, stockings and fancy trappings of a holiday that seems to expand more and more each year. I dutifully fluffed branches, refastened glittering bows and searched for those darn ornament hooks (where DO those suckers disappear to every year?) And after a day and a half -and several trips to Lowes – I had festive, warm holiday décor from the guest bath to the front door. Christmas candles flickered almost in tune with the music streaming into the house via satellite radio. All was perfect, all was bright.

Except I felt nothing warm and festive.

In fact I actually had the thought (a very grinchy thought) that I wish Christmas wouldn’t come at all this year.

Yeah. First time EVER in my life I wished Christmas would have blown past without even honking its horn or tossing out a single gift.

Bah, humbug couldn’t touch what I felt. I wasn’t a Scrooge or a Grinch…or was I? I weathered the office party thrown at our house, bought all the Christmas gifts and wrapped them and still…nothing. I made gingerbread houses with the kids and faked the Christmas spirit the entire time, humming along to Bing and saying things like “Isn’t this fun?” But thing was…it wasn’t. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me (and I won’t delve into my spiritual life because I KNOW very well what the true meaning of Christmas is). Was I tired? Had I finally grown up? Or maybe all the crap of Christmas blocked the joy for me.

I didn’t know.

Now, I know you’re thinking to yourself that this is supposed to be about writing. I’ll get there eventually, but first you have to hold on a bit more.

So this past weekend, I volunteered to take my 14 year old son and several of his friends down to New Orleans to see their high school play in the state football championship game. His historic high school has not been to the state championship in 51 years, so it was a big deal for the school. Almost everyone went down with cars painted purple and gold. Yellow Jackets were going to the Dome (Super Dome) and I was playing chaperone. And just like my attitude about Christmas, I was less than stoked. But I faked it. So we went to the game…and lost. And though I did enjoy cheering and wishing and praying the Jackets would pull off the upset, I wasn’t particularly emotional about the game. After very little sleep (did I mention five 14 year old boys?) we awoke and decided that before we headed home, we’d play a bit in the French Quarter. The day was cold but sunny, and after a terrific shrimp po’boy at Maspero’s and poking around the shops (and finding some cool historic NOLA t-shirts), we headed back to the ‘port (Shreveport). The five boys were in fine form, and -okay let me stop here and say this – my son has been particularly difficult lately. He’s been doing his whole independence thing which means he’s pretty much an ass most of the time. Those of you who have raised boys know this stage – they know everything, they disdain every suggestion you make and pretty much only need you when there are no more potato chips or they cut themselves shaving. So my former sweet-as-sugar, I-love-you-so-much-mommy boy has been not quite a horror show but close for the past five months. Okay, back to driving home. So we stopped and ate at Waffle House and after the boys got enough carbs and caffeine in their system, it was time to plug in the ox cord and sing.

Now this is totally crazy, but what happened over the next two hours changed my heart.

They started with regular teenage crap. You know, stuff that made me cringe. I had to decree no more music with the “F” word or one that called girls the word that rhymes with witch. And I didn’t care about freeing Lil Boosie. So then they moved on to Natasha Beddingfield. Yeah. They knew all the words. Then it was “Unwritten.” Honestly, I laughed till I cried. Then they went to John Denver’s “Country Road” and Celine Dion’s “The Heart Will Go On.” There was ecstatic moves to “All the Single Ladies” And as we exited off the interstate, finally home, they had saved the best song for last – “American Pie.” They knew ALL five minutes of the song.  It was several hours of sheer beauty. Not so great singing. But sheer wonderfulness.

And it was a good enough reason to have missed several hours of sleep, spent a couple hundo and failed at working on the novella I’d declared will be finished by Christmas.

Sometimes all we need is just one reason to smile. Just one reason to press on and to remember the good things in life…and in writing.

Writing is hard enough without worrying about the business of writing. If sitting down and writing a book that has great characterization, controlled pacing, brilliant plotting and hooks at the end of each chapter is hard, then releasing the book into the cold bitch world of publishing is the devil. You can control nothing and sometimes you feel as though you are washed up against rocks, your forehead tapping a rhythm against the wet sand. It’s hard and sometimes you wonder “Why am I doing this?” or you think “Why bother?”

But all you really need is one good reason. Maybe it’s cathartic and the only validation you need is the beauty of your own words. Or maybe it’s a contest final just when you wanted to trash the sonofabitch manuscript and call it quits. Or maybe it’s a reader letter that says just the right thing. Or a call from your agent telling you the editor wants to see the rest of the book. Or maybe its getting that first contract. Whatever it is, we writers exists for that one little reason to keep tapping away like a woodpecker on crack, creating, pouring our hearts into something worthwhile.

It’s a stretch. I know. Five kids singing “Drove my Chevy to the levee” made me feel good things were possible. Made me laugh. Made me look through the rain-spotted windshield and see the Christmas lights strung across houses in a different light. Perhaps it’s silly, but it was reason enough.

And, really, that all you need – just one reason to write your story today. Find that reason….and if you want me to send some silly 14 year old boys up to sing Cher (yeah, they did “Do You Believe in Love” too) I can arrange it for a fee.

Wishing you a happy holiday…and wishing you a bit of joy in the midst of the chaos!

 

Listen Up, Grasshopper

BalancedrocksSM

 

Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

 

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

 

I like to think about life in four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with a foot and hand in each color.)

 

How does this translate into my writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they try to restore balance through action, or, in the case of the villain, often through unconventional or illegal means. The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or decide they’d rather have oranges.

 

As a reader, and as someone who strives for balance, I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life plan…better them than me, I say.

 

For instance, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life. In Deadly Bonds, everything’s going smoothly for my heroine, a director of a school, when a parent promises to make trouble for her because she won’t get with his program. In fact, my whole Mindhunters series was the result of an imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

 

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

 

What are some of the imbalances your characters face, or in the books you’re currently reading? What areas of your life are you working to balance, and how?

 

AnneMarieBeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

(*This post originally ran on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog on June 12, 2012.)

Wordcount Mindgames: Tricks for Productivity

The Winter Writing Festival is upon us and you know what that means. Mega wordcounts! Pushing for our goals! Striving to stay motivated and not burn ourselves out in the first week so we last all the way to Week Seven! But just how do we do that? How do we stay motivated day after day? My trick? Little victories.

People have called me prolific, a fast writer, churning out new books faster than the Kardashians churn out magazine covers. With a stack of published works behind me, it’s hard to argue, “No, I’m slow!” but the truth is there are days when I plod along, dragging each word onto the page by stubbornness alone.

You want to know the secret? (Or maybe not THE secret, but MY secret? Or at least one of them…) The trick behind pumping up your word count, day after day, book after book, and avoiding burn out is tricking yourself into believing it’s easy. It’s all about the mind games, baby.

There are a thousand different ways you can do this, ways to make the Sisyphean task of writing a book seem manageable, and one of them is bound to work for you. So let’s talk mind games and efficiency tricks.

Have you ever set a timer? Done a writing sprint? Rewarded yourself with a handful of M&Ms or an episode of your favorite show? Joined an accountability group where your rewards depended on *everyone* achieving your goals and you refused to be the one who let everyone down?

I’ve used all of the above, but I’ve found I have to change it up every now and then because my lazy brain gets used to them and they stop working as well. I’ve also found different techniques work well depending on whether you’re trying to wedge your writing time in around a busy schedule or stave off burn-out as a full-time writer day after day. (My current challenge is the latter.)

Here’s my latest technique in one simple step: I just set an hourly goal for my writing day which I KNOW I can achieve, even on my worst day when the voices in my head are ignoring me completely. For me, that’s four hundred words in one hour.

It has to be a goal that seems almost laughably easy to accomplish, because then 1) I have no excuse for not doing it and 2) when that is ALL I accomplish, I still get a sense of satisfaction and that drives me to keep going, as opposed to setting my goal at my average rate and then being discouraged every time my performance is below average.

Sounds too simple to be effective, doesn’t it? But here’s the trick: even though I tell myself I can take a break until the top of the hour when I hit my hourly goal or stop when I reach my daily goal, I almost never do, because by then I’m in the groove. Telling myself I only need 400 words per hour is how I got almost 20,000 words in three days when I was pushing to finish my last book.

It’s all the little victories that keep driving you. Every four hundred words, your brain is releasing dopamine to celebrate your accomplishment and you never have the disappointment of not hitting your overly ambitious goal. Because 400 words? I can write that in no time! So what if I got a phone call and got distracted for half an hour – I can still get right back on track!

Obviously this technique won’t work for everyone, but for me it is my mind game of choice at the moment. Setting targets so far beneath what I know I can do, that there is NO EXCUSE not to do it. And then do more.

What tricks do you use to keep yourself motivated? Do you have any word count mind games to share with the class? 😉

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